There has been a lot of chatter regarding cigarettes and poor mental health. But is there a link?
Firstly, any health professional will confirm that one of the biggest changes a person can make to improve their overall health is to quit smoking for good. We know that much.
In recent months, more attention has been drawn on e-cigarettes, and whether or not they should be more readily available to people on prescription, or on general recommendation by GPs or health care workers for people who have tried everything else to quit for good.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in conjunction with Public Health England (PHE) updated their guidance for health care professionals to advise patients to try e-cigarettes on a path to becoming smoke-free earlier this year.
Last November, health groups called for a positive approach to be taken on e-cigarettes where mental health is concerned. But did you know some publicly-funded mental health trusts ban e-cigarettes? Surely that’s not a positive approach.
In a statement, the Mental Health & Smoking Partnership focused on a need for wider acceptance of e-cigarettes in mental health settings. While both the National Health Service (NHS) Five Year Forward View for Mental Health and the new Tobacco Control Plan for England emphasise a need for what they refer to as “parity of esteem” in tackling British smoking rates, the habit is still around twice as common in those with mental health conditions.
When that statement was published late last year, Professor Ann McNeill of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies and co-chair of the Mental Health and Smoking Partnership commented to Smokefree Action, saying people with poor mental health were far more likely to use traditional cigarettes, further damaging their health.
“People with a mental health condition are more than twice as likely to smoke as the general population. This is a great inequality leading to early death and years of chronic illness for many. E-cigarettes provide a new opportunity for people to move away from smoking and avoid the terrible burden of death and disease it causes.”
Ahead of the curve is a Leicestershire-based mental health trust which has been using e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid for almost a year, as part of a wider initiative to become smoke-free.
Last July, Dr Peter Miller, Chief Executive of Leicestershire Partnership Trust, told Public Health England (PHE) for an article,
“We understand that stopping smoking can cause discomfort, and have put in place a number of initiatives to support people to not smoke while on our premises, or ideally give up for good. This includes the provision of nicotine replacement therapy and, if required, products for vaping. Whilst we are not there yet, we are committed to continuing on this journey to be smoke-free.”
At a House of Commons Science and Technology Committee hearing on e-cigarettes in April of this year, the topic of e-cigarettes being banned in NHS trusts emerged. The UK’s pharmacy minister said he was keeping an open mind when it came to the promotion of e-cigarettes on cigarette packs. The committee chair Norman Lamb, put it to the MP that despite smoking being the single biggest cause of inequality of life expectancy for people with poor mental health, it has been shown that one third of NHS mental health trusts had banned e-cigarettes within their organisations.
Mr Brine said this did not surprise him, stating it was up to the individual trust as an independent legal entity, to decide their policy and that trusts were not short of guidance. He added he was “certainly not relaxed about this” and referred to the government’s tobacco control plan, which identifies mental health patients as a particularly at-risk group. He described the group as “low-hanging fruit” for smoking cessation.
In a mission to become smoke-free, he said, “It’s about trusts ending the culture around smoking — cigarette smoking is seen as a reward where individuals will interact in a way they wouldn’t otherwise.”
Time will tell how effective e-cigarettes may or may not be in helping those in poor mental health. However one thing is certain: vaping is 95 percent less harmful to one’s health than smoking cigarettes.
*If you need someone to talk to, contact MIND – the mental health charity on 0300 123 3393 or you can text the charity on 86463. If you think you need urgent help, go to www.mind.org.uk